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Rachel Cox Education. (2012) 'Into Dust and Fire Five Young Americans Who Went First To Fight the Nazi Army.'

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01:15:00

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TOPIC FREQUENCY

America 11, England 11, Strom Thurmond 11, Egypt 9, Vermont 8, North Africa 8, Tunisia 8, Jack Brister 7, Cairo 6, Windsor 5, Capetown 5, Us 5, United States 4, Charles Mclean 4, Rommel 3, Harrington 3, Africa 3, U.s. 3, South Carolina 3, London 3,
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  CSPAN    Book TV    Rachel Cox  Education.  (2012) 'Into Dust and Fire Five  
   Young Americans Who Went First To Fight the Nazi Army.'  

    November 10, 2012
    12:00 - 1:15pm EST  

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the u.s. squarely in the center of the world. the eurasian continent was split into, as parentheses to the u.s. in order to accommodate this you. i believe i have struggled against this distortion of the u.s. is both literal and symbolic place in the world all my life. we are close in age. so i wonder if you encounter the same perpetual distortion and subsequent challenge? you have 30 seconds. >> absolutely something i write about in don't know much about geography. specifically, most of us grew up with a certain, what is called, projection of the world. greenland looks like it is big, if up in africa. so, as things get turned around and given proportionally, i also included in that book of maps that just turns north and south america upside-down. what would happen if we looked at -- there's no reason we can look at it that way. north doesn't have to be a top.
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we could put south of the top who wanted to. >> host: we will have to leave it there. i apologize. out of time. kenneth davis has been our guest here on "in-depth". . . >> your internet is 20 times
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faster uploading and 10 times faster downloading. all these other countries understand a fundamental principle. in the 19th century, canals and railroads were the key to economic growth as industrialization came along, and you had to move heavy things like steel. as the 20th century came along, it was highways, the interstate highway program, for example, and airports that were crucial to economic growth. now it's the information superhighway, and what does the industry say? oh, don't call us that anymore. >> best selling author david cay johnston on the many ways corporations try to rob you blind tonight at 10 each on "after words." and tomorrow watch for live coverage of tom wolfe from opening night at miami book fair international this weekend on c-span2's booktv. you're watching booktv. and now rachel cox recounts a decision by five men, including
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her uncle, rob cox, to leave their ivy league schools and join the british army in the spring of 1941. six months prior to pearl harbor and america's involvement in world war ii. this is about an hour. [applause] >> thank you. thank you, shep. thank you for that kind introduction. thank you for introducing me to bill lewis who's made the northshire bookstore, as far as i can tell, the end center of sales of "into dust and fire" in the entire united states. [laughter] thank you to c-span booktv for making me feel like oprah winfrey f only for an hour. and it's wonderful to be here. isn't this everything that a bookstore should be? many really, i'm thrilled to be at the northshire. i'm also happy to be in vermont because i have longstanding family ties with the state.
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am i being -- am i -- can you hear? yeah, talk louder. okay. i have longstanding ties with this state, and my book really got started here in vermont. when i was a little girl, i used to spend my school vacations with my grandmother who live inside a wonderful big, old, white federal-style house on main street in windsor, vermont, which is an hour and a half maybe north of here on the connecticut river. i could spend the summers, what she called lolling around realizing and imagining what it was like to the live there before i was born. my father had a big family, there were seven children. he had two sisters and four brothers. the most famous of them would be archie bald cox, but my father's brother who really fascinated me was the one who was missing from the family. he'd been killed in the war,
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which at that time, of course, was world war ii. my grandmother kept momentos of his around the house. i knew a few things from them. she didn't talk about him much. she was kind of reticent about anything very private anyway. she kept a wonderful photograph in her bedroom that showed him in the round, flat helmet of a british soldier. it framed his face like a halo almost. i thought could anyone have been more heroic and handsome than my uncle rob? i knew he'd been athletic, she had a photograph of him in his hockey skates and his prep school sweater. he'd gone to st. paul school in concord, new hampshire, which was the first, really the archetype of the spartan, episcopalian boys' boarding schools in new england. i knew he'd done very well there. she kept his trophies in the dining room, and one of them was known as the modestly as the best boy medal for outstanding
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diligence and virtue which he had won his senior year. from family stories i knew that he had been killed in tunisia in 1943. i knew that he'd fought for the british, not the americans, and i knew he had gone ahead of america as a whole. well, i grew up, i became a journalist, i lived through the war in vietnam which raised a lot of interesting questions about war and its value. i had a, as i say, i became a journalist, and about six years ago i was casting around for a book idea, and it occurred to me maybe i should just poke around a little and see what i can learn about my uncle. was he really as heroic as he had looked to me when i was a child? so i did. i got in touch, the first person i got in touch with was an old family friend named charles mclean who was a retired professor at dartmouth, and to
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my astonishment, i discovered that he had actually spent the day with my uncle on the very day uncle robbie decided to go to war. it was may 31, 1941. they were both seniors in college. my uncle at harvard and charles mclean at dartmouth. they met up at st. paul's for what was that school's rather self-important equivalent of what they call homecoming at other schools that involved straw voters and boat club blazers and lots of crew races. but at that point at the end of may in 1941 what was really foremost on most people's minds was what was happening in europe. of course, hitler had ridden roughshod over almost all of it. um, and the draft had been reinstated in the united states. so most of the people who were of about to graduate from college like my uncle were very concerned about what would
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happen next, would they be draft canned, did they want to join the war? college campuses at that point were really embroiled in controversy much as college campuses were when i was in school. there were the isolationists who wanted america to stay out, the interventionists who believed that america should be in. all this was on my uncle's mind. and he had learned at college about an opportunity to join the british army as an officer candidate in a rather what nay called a smart regiment in england called the king's royal rifle corps. it had actually been started in the colonies, in the american colonies in the 1750s during the french and indian war. they'd wanted to bring in some colonists who knew something about the landscape and could help fight the indians and the french. of course, when the american revolution came, there were no more colonists in the king's royal rifle corps. but in 1941 when the british
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were desperate to get the united states involved in the war, a few great minds in england such as the foreign minister, anthony eden, had done what they could to make arrangements to bring what would ultimately be 18 americans to join the king's royal rifle corps. my uncle and another fellow from harvard named hayward cutting would be two of the first to join. now, that night when he was spending the evening with charles mclean, he tried to convince mclean to go with him. they talked over the pros and cons. by the end of the evening when my uncle went back to came brim, he'd made up his mind for sure to go. charles mclean wasn't so sure, but he headed back to dartmouth to talk over the idea with some of his close friends who were committed interventionists, leaders of the movement at dartmouth. so to start, i'd like the read a little pit about what happened that -- a little bit about what
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happened that night as charles mclean left my uncle in new hampshire, and, um, a little bit about what happened almost 70 years later when i met with mclean in his, in his small room in hanover as a much older man. excited, mclean raced through the dark back to hanover and the solid brick honor society house beside the village green. locating bolt and dirk, these were his friends, took a matter of minutes. the members all slept in rows of beds under the eves at a gauntlet in a chilly, open attic they called the wind tunnel. no sooner had they congresswoman prehended -- comprehended the news, they went off to find a friend. more discussion and debate among the dartmouth friends would follow. within weeks their applications to the 60th rifles -- which was another name for the king's
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royal rifle corps -- would be received and approved. tom littlefield, who wanted to go, too, was rejected on account of a bum shoulder. but that night, may 31, 1941, the die was cast. cox, cutting, brister would offer themselves to be officer candidates in the king's royal rifle corps. in less than six weeks, they would ship out for england. other harvard and dartmouth men would follow, 18 americans joined the 60th rifles, and some 17 months later the u.s. army itself finally would enter the fray. but these five young men went first, and in wartiming truly is everything. before going to sleep that night -- this is when i talked with him 70 years later -- charles mclean, as was his habit, wrote in his diary. 65 years, as i said, 65 years
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later in the small, book-lined rooms where he lived at a retirement village he showed me the entry. it seemed to have surprised him. fear was not a viable thought or emotion during those days, he mused. cox, he had written in 1941, had started me thinking. he wants me to go with him. the idea's very attractive. it is clean, no waiting, exciting. but i am dubious of the chance of coming back. well, i knew a good quote when i heard one, even though it sort of gave me the shivers that he had so neatly foreseen the situation. so i asked charles mclean to put me in touch with the descendants and relatives of the other four men who went, and he did. and they produced an amazing pile of journals, letters,
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reminiscences. the sister of charles was still alive, i was able to interview her. and it became clearer and clearer that this was a story that really needed to be told and that i thought at the time wouldn't be too difficult to tell. turned out to be a little harder than i expected, but, um, in any case, actually one of the hardest things about it because these guys turned out to be so articulate and funny and well read and thoughtful, one of the hardest parts was deciding when to tell the story myself in my own voice and when to quote from them. i had a few tussles with my editor about how i was quoting them too much and i should just get back to the story. but anyway, to get back to the story, um, in july of 1941 these five young men, three from dartmouth -- briste and two from harvard met up in new york. they all met up at the st. regis for a drink with an emissary
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with the british 'em bass is i to finalize paperwork which mostly amounted to just making sure they all had a birth certificate. they weren't dealing with passports. there were certain legal restrictions on going overseas to fight for a foreign army. so they sort of skirted around that. they all got on the train to halifax and waited there a few days and then got on a freighter, joined a great big convoy of some 60 boats loaded with everything from sugar to pig iron and, of course, their military escorts. this was the way that you tried to get across the north atlantic without being to have torpedoeda submarine or sunk by a lift airplane. and they did get across. they arrived very beginning of august, 1941. they were met by an emissary of the king's royal rifle corps. they went down to winchester, england, which is about 30 mile,
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i think, south of london and joined their british comrades. they were a little bit disappointed to discover they weren't going to get off the boat and get on the battlefield. i think they kind of had the idea that you went to war the way you went to a war movie. you joined up, and then you were on the battlefield fighting for what was right and good. and they discovered that they had about a year of training there in eckland in which they -- england in which they did the things enlisted men do; they drilled, they suffered, they got to know their comrades. they really loved the riflemen most of whom were cockneys from east london and were kind of rippled and hilarious how much f the time. took them a little longer to warm up to the upper crust 19-year-old aristocrats what we would call prep school, what they would call public school, who were going to be officers like the american guys were.
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but in the end they came to like them and respect them very much too. jack brister fell madly in love with a woman who was a member of the naval service, and since we're in a bookstore, i have to tell this. i don't want to lose track of the larger narrative, but one of the things they did, they were both great readers. and to keep in touch with each other, each of them would read a book, and as they read, they'd write little notes in the margin, their thoughts, their opinions on it, and then when they finished the book, each of them would send it to the other, and it was like reading the book together. i thought that was a wonderful idea. they also did some things that your average english soldier couldn't do. because they were americans, they became sort of propaganda stars, and they were constantly being photographed and posed for photographs which irritated them, but i guess pleased the ministry of war information in england because, of course, they were, they were sort of the leading edge of american help which the british were desperate for at that point.
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um, they made great friends with the american ambassador to england, a man named john gilbert wynant. but the time in england was really excite -- quite exciting despite the training, and when they finally graduated from basic training, went off to officer train anything the november of 1941, and by april of '42 they had been commissioned as officers, and bill dirke won this symbolic silver baton, the symbol of being the best, the best shot, the all-around trainee in his class. so they were all very proud of that. by april 1942, of course, the situation had changed a little bit in the world, because in december of '41 the japanese bombed pearl harbor, germany declared war on the united states, something that a lot of historians think was one of hitler's greatest mistakes.
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um, and the american soldiers were at camp with the british when this occurred. it was a huge celebration. i think people recognized it was a bit of a tragedy for the united states, but also the british were thrilled that finally they weren't being forced to stand alone against the german war machine. finally, in july of 1942 the five americans shipped out for the battlefield. at that point the nazis controlled the mediterranean. so to get to north africa which is where the british and the axis were at that point fighting with each other, you had to go all the way around the bottom of africa. it was 13,000 miles. it's crazy to think of it, but that's the only way they could do it. almost everything that went to the battlefield in north africa had to make this amazingly long journey with a stop in the capetown. it took a month, six weeks --
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maybe more like six weeks. they stopped in capetown. my uncle, i learned, had his own very passionate love affair, although brief, in capetown. and then they reached suez in egypt on september 3rd, 1942. now, i should probably give a little background on the war in north africa. historians when they talk about it tend to use metaphors like seesaw, pendulum. it was this peculiar sort of rhythm of war that began in the fall of 1940. mussolini had visions of grandeur, i guess, wanted to ride his white stallion down the streets of cairo. he had trooped in libya when was an italian colony, and he decided to make a play for cairo, attack the british going east. the british attacked right back and went, drove the italians
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pretty far west into libya at which point hitler realized he really needed to bail out his pal, mussolini, although i don't think he was happy about it. so he sent in irwin rommel, the famous tank commander, along with a bunch of perhapsers, and he effectively drove the british back into egypt. now, when the summer rolls around, things would kind of quiet down. it was terribly hot, and the campaigning would sort of cease, the two sides would dig in, and then in the fall of 1941 there was again an advance by the british into libya in hopes of driving the axis forces back. rommel turned around and pushed the british back again all the way this time, sort of disastrously, all the way deep into egypt, deeper than they'd ever been before.
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so when the american soldiers arrived, the british, the allies, i should say, and the axis forces were kind of dug in testing each other in place called the allah main line which was about 60 miles west of alexandria, close enough to the british naval center in egypt, close enough to cairo and just beyond cairo, of course, the suez canal to be really extremely dangerous and extremely, i think, frightening to all the allies. beyond the suez canal were the middle eastern oil fields, and just as they are now, they were critical to the british war effort. so it was a tense moment and an important moment. and is on september 3rd the five yanks steamed up the red sea and into suez, unloaded and went off to their training camps to prepare for battle along the alamain line. and one other bitover background. in doing the research for this
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book, i was lucky enough to go to egypt, tunisia and, of course, england. and i went to see the alamain line. it looks like every other part of the egyptian desert which is to say sandy, flat, rocky, bleak. you can't imagine why this point would be the place where two armies, you know, sort of came to a halt and dug in. but the reason is because it couldn't be outflanked. it was blocked on the north by the mediterranean sea. on the south there's kind of a marshy, sandy area called the qatar depression which can't really be -- it's impossible to heavy vehicles such as tanks, for instance. rommel likes -- one of rommel's tricks when he was fighting was to skirt around to posing army and jump on him from behind. so that couldn't happen here. among them were my five
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soldiers. and when they got to egypt in ir the first time in more than a year, they were separated in two groups. jack brister and dirke joined the first battalion king's royal rifle corps and went down with the seventh armored division which was the storied desert rats. they were a very famous part of the british army. cox, bolte and hayward cutting were sent out with the second battalion. so between those two groups they pretty much saw most of the battle when it finally came october, on october 33rd. 23rd. now, i'm just going to take a little die depression since we're in vermont, and we're hearing about hurricanes to read you something that i wrote about my uncle's ship in his training battalion in egypt to the front line near
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alamain. it's really -- what i tried to do throughout the book was tell the story as they lived it, as they thought about it. so this is trying to get inside his mind as he drives across the egyptian desert in the october of 1942. when the great day came for cox to join the second battalion, he and harrington -- that was his bat man, every british officer has a kind offer is about servat they call their bat men -- he and harrington loaded their possessions onto a jeep and set off very early on the road toward cairo. it was the first trip of any length that cox had driven in a long while, and it excited him to travel on his own for a change. the morning air was cool, the sky slowly brightening to a crisp, sharp blue like a fall morning in new england. he felt migratory. with all his belongings strapped
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onto the jeep and harrington crammed in, it seemed briefly like the windsor trip that his family made twice yearly, moving between new jersey and vermont. as cox headed west, the nile delta opened up before them, startlingly green, wide and fertile. the land was absolutely flat in a way cox found unsettling. he was aware that he had yet to experience the blue, which was what the veterans down there called the desert, but he had spent considerable time contemplating the brown wastes around the infantry base depot. and to his continual amazement, being a man who had always thought trees and lakes and mountains important, he loved them. possibly it was their geometric barrenness. perhaps in may when conditions were drier and hotter he would not have loved them so well, the lone and level sands stretching far away. he remembered shelley's traveler
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from an antique land which could certainly have been egypt. there, as they neared cairo, were the three great pyramids punctuating the perfect line of the horizon like an ancient geometry lesson. still, for all its flatness, the greenness of the delta would have been -- if he could be allowed for a moment to consider the unthinkable -- an unbelievably sight to the africa corps should they ever see it. this is a good war out here in that respect he wrote home a few days later. he has a lush, green land as goal, and we have our goal; ever west which is the direction of home and the traditional american direction. he had been looking forward for a while now to spending christmas in benghazi, and he thought that after that a springtime leave ski anything the alps would be nice, the swiss alps or better still, the italian. all army vehicles in the desert have their windshields remove to prevent reflected light from
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capturing the enemy's attention. this made driving challenging, and when the wind kicked up and the sand too -- which had proven nearly inevitable -- it was painfully so. the violence of sand and wind against his face took rob back to the fall of 1938 when he and his mother, quite unknowingly, had migrated home through vermont from the great hurricane that would be remembered as the long island express. they had dropped off his younger brother, louie, for his first year at st. paul's, in the rain. it had been raining for days. then returned to windsor. they were aware that the rivers were rising and that flooding was occurring in western vermont, but that hadn't seemed particularly ominous. flooding was a regular part of the change of seasons and happened like clockwork when the ice broke up in the rivers each spring. the family in windsor had been anxious about their safety, but no one said the word hurricane, and rob and his mother were eager to get home.
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the next morning before they left uncle louie made them promise to stop if the water got too high and whatever happened to telephone him that night at 9. they pulled out of the gravel driveway onto route 5 in pouring rain, but by lunchtime when they reached the little town of simmsbury county, northwest of hartford, the rain had stopped. his mother memorably bought him a nice rare steak for lunch. honestly, you've been driving me around for about three days, you really deserve a good lunch of, she said. you have anything you want. for a while after they'd finished, they stood on the porch with the restaurant owner looking around at the stillness. not a drop of rain, not a breath of air disturbed it. the wind started up at about the same time they did. absolutely terrific, as his mother would say, the rain whooshing and lashing the car as if thrown down from huge buckets. the wild weather, far from alarming them, made them feel exhilarated.
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they were having a wonderful time. as they fought their way south through connecticut, mama asked rob whether perhaps they should stop. they knew people in nearly every town along the road. rob didn't want to, and mama didn't either. they drove on. then bad got worse. everywhere cars had stalled out or stuck, the sluicing road was littered with them. but rob and mama sailed on and on feeling wonderful. looking back later, the hurricane's unexpected distractedness had become confused with the growing menace in europe. hitler annexing austria in march 1938, then moving on czechoslovakia in the fall, and with the strange stasis that seemed to follow like the eye of a hurricane, each frightful act of aggression. they heard hitler's voice on the radio and were chilled that fall when the war almost started but doesn't. when rob and mama reached home, they still hadn't grasped the
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full extent of the storm damage. plainfield had been windy -- that's where they went to in vermont, sorry, where they lived in new jersey. but less so than other places. when the telephone rang with news that his sister molly visiting relatives near boston was fine, mama couldn't understand why they were calling. later that night when uncle louie finally got through, they gained some sense of the damage. he had had to leave his house and fight his way to the telephone office to get a line. all along main street big, old elms had fallen. the virgin pine forest in paradise was wrecked. that was an area of kind of unspoiled trees behind the house in windsor. it's now a beautiful park, but it no longer has these immense firs and pines that were there in the '30s. the virgin pine forest in paradise was wrecked. the woods, mama would say later, looked as if giants had been playing jack straws.
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everywhere ruined and paradise never again the same. that had been rob's personal family loss. it would be nearly two years more before all hell broke loose around the globe. so this is a digression. now we have to go back to egypt in 1942, but what was interesting in a way was what was about to happen to rob at this point was all hell was about to break loose for him. he would be moved to the front lines. he'd learned how to operate a wonderful, he thought it was a wonderful, enormous gun called a six-pounder, and he and the other men lined up along the alamain line. i think there were something like hundreds of thousands -- well, tens of thousands of men anyway. and he found as he got out into the desert that he actually loved this desert too. he was a fan of wide open spaces, i guess you'd say, and he liked the independent life that the soldiers were able to lead there, kind of each man
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alone with his jeep in the desert. anyway, as time went by it became increasingly clear that the day of battle was approaching. they kept repeating the same exercise, marching through simulated mine fields. three of them at a time doing the same amount of period they were being trained for the assault which began on the night of october 23rd, just about 70 years ago, four days ago. and i would like to now read another short bit which describes what it was like, um, for jack brister at the southern end of the line as the night of battle arrived, and they were ordered into action. as dusk fell across the vast, stony plain of the western desert, 10,000 plus men of the seventh armored division mounted their vehicles and began
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jockeying for their places in column. the thunder of tank engines throbbed in their ears. four lines comprising gun carriers, troop carriers, jeeps, tanks, antitank guns and trucks lengthened gradually across the pale sand. the columns lurched forward, the advance began. the army passed slow hi into narrow lanes cleared earlier through the allied mine fields by the 44th reconnaissance regiment aided by tanks newly equipped for mine clearance. white cotton tapes lighted the lanes at regular intervals the symbol for each path glowing dimly where it had been cut out of the metal on the eastern side. the western side kept dark to prevent enemy detection. nearly four and a half hours later at 9:40, just as planned, the sky behind the advancing men caught fire. the crack and boom of the opening barrage piled noise upon noise along the length of the
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horizon so that the force of sound rushing up seemed to propel them. in the desert now, a man could shout or laugh or scream or cry and no one would hear him. the power of it was overwhelm withing, thrilling. man might feel puny and yet immense both at once. the full moon rose, the hard ground cooled, and the steady advance of the first battalion churned it to dust. each driver could only follow mechanically the black silhouette of the vehicle three yards in front of him. as the columns progressed, activity ahead of the men increased. pa chien gun bullets -- machine gun bullets in all directions, armor-piercing shots ricocheted upward. near the heads of their columns, brister and dirke and their men reached the end of the allied mine fields and passed into no man's land. here soldiers of the reconnaissance regiment were going about their business
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escorting prisoners, salvaging weapons and ammunition from a knocked-out vehicle, helping back the wounded. some wounded themselves, others just lay awkwardly where they had fallen, bodies fractured and amid the cacophony strangely and utterly still. well, the battle went on for 12 more days. it was, of course, chaos, hell. it did not go according to plan, although general montgomery, the leader of the british eighth army, argued for the rest of his life that it had. i go into a lot of detail about it in the book. i'll spare you now, but suffice it to say that the british army -- or i should say the allies prevailed. and, but unfortunately four of the five americans there did not get through unscathed. hayward cutting and bill dirke both were machine gunned in the
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knees and spent months and months in the hospital learning to walk again. chuck bolte took a shell fragment in the thigh and had to spend a month in the hospital wondering if his, he was going to be able to keep his leg, and in the end it had to be amputated to save his life. my uncle was shot in the back but, fortunately, just a little bit to the, to one side of the spine. so he spent a couple months in the hospital, but when he was better, he went back into action, and he joined jack brister who by this time was, oh, nearly 2,000 miles further along the edge of north africa. and on february 2, 1943, they went into tunisia. now, it's important to know by this time the american army finally had entered the fray on november 8th in an operation called torch. general patton and a couple of other generals and a large number of american soldiers landed in algeria and morocco,
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and along with a british contingent they marched -- fought often with heavy losses east into tunisia where they took a little while but, eventually, met up with the british eighth army. and the idea was they could then sort of ec -- expel the allied, sorry, expel the axis forces from north africa, from tunisia which would become the launches ground for the invasion of italy that was scheduled for that summer and fall of 1943. so by february 1943 when jack brister and my uncle, rob cox, arrived in tunisia, it was pretty clear this was a good idea, and although the american army had suffered a lot learning how to fight, it was pretty clear that they would prevail in knot africa, but it would be a couple months of really difficult fighting before that came to pass. tunisia's quite mount --
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mountainous, it made it difficult for the american armies to advance through the passageways between the mountains. it was difficult. bloody fighting. and, unfortunately, both my uncle and jack brister were, lost their lives in the process. by may germany had declared defeat in north africa and moved back into italy to get ready for the next, the next round so to speak. so in conclusion then, i'd like to, um, talk about the motivation of my uncle in the going to war. this was one of the subjects that fascinated me when as i began to learn about him, him and the four other americans, they didn't have to go when they went. but they believed it was the right thing to do. and there were other reasons, too, which i will lee -- leave to you. i hope you'll read the book and
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draw your own conclusions. they each had their own reasons. but i'll read you what my uncle had to say on the subject. after he was killed, my grandmother received his personal possessions back again all the way from north africa, and among them was a letter he had written to her when he was in capetown waiting to go to egypt and go into action. a letter to be opened in the event of my death, he called it. so i'll read you what he said about -- i'll read you part of that. dearest m, it begins, i have thought infrequently of writing this letter and each time shied from it. first, because it is like all the sentimental heroics which prevent clear thought and, second, that i'm quite sure i shan't be killed which means the writing a bit of emotional self-indulgence, undig myified. -- undignified. dignity in the sense worthy of a man, whatever great or little
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worth man has. on the other hand -- oops, sorry. i do not need to tell you why i came. i doubt if i could tell you fully. billy, that's what they all called his uncle for unexplained reasons, billy said when i talked to him about it there were four reasons for going; nothing better to do, adventure, curiosity and belief. i came for all four. but mostly for shame. i was ashamed of america. i love america. and i could not sit mediocre while america was being attacked. for america's not just a place between two oceans, america is a faith. and because it is a faith, must be dynamic or perish. do you know what is written on the statue of liberty? i did once, but i have forgotten. i will write what i would put
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there; send me your oppressed, for i will give them freedom. send me your despised for here they will be ennobled. one day the dream will be fact. a child who loves a ball throws it in the air. a miser reveling in his gold clutches a handful and holding it aloft lets it stream gleaming downward in the sunlight. even thus i, who love life, know that my life is worth nothing if not worth risking. evil has come amongst us saying put yourself in the balance with me. are you not glad to do it? you are -- i am. you are glad, too, for i am happy. bless the friends i love so well, but above all you, m. life is good, brother, there's a wind on the heath. all my love, rob. that's the end. [laughter] thank you very much, and i'd
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be -- [applause] i'd love to answer any questions you might have. comments are welcome also. [laughter] yeah. oh -- >> the written language has suffered as much. you know, now we tweet three words, and we think we're making -- >> yeah. >> and the letters and the journals of that time were just so incredibly graphic because there was no other accoutrement to help express what was going on in their lives. and they were, and they could put their hearts into their words. and you were so fortunate to be able to stumble on to the gold mine that you did. >> yeah. i was fortunate, yes.
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thank you. oh, i had something i was going to add, what was it? oh, i know what i wanted to tell you. after the war ended, my grandmother had three of her five sons fought in world war ii, and at the end she had, of course, stacks of letters. they all wrote to her i would say at least once a week. it's remarkable. now it seems almost unbelievable. but she took all their letters, she took them to a typist, and then she bound them in red leather so she had these sort of wonderful, official momentos of the war. i have to say i learned by doing this research that she did redact, she did a little bit of editing of the letters. [laughter] so i found, i actually did find the original, my uncle's original letters, and anything having to do with the woman that he was in love with when he went overseas, how that relationship ended, this little encounter he
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had in capetown were completely removed from the official record. [laughter] so and, of course, you have to think about how they adjusted what they wrote for the -- to take into account the feelings of the folks at home. i mean, i kept, you know, they seemed remarkably -- all of them seemed remarkably cheerful as i read their letters, and i'm sure it was, they truly -- that's partly who they were, that they'd put the best face on things by nature. that's the way they'd been brought up, that's the way they handled things. but i also had to think about how much they were trying to sort of put a bright face on the situation for their -- because they didn't want to worry their parents and their brothers and sisters. the letters would be circulated, of course, they'd go to the mother, and then they'd get sent to the sister and then the aunt and the uncle, and everybody would get a chance to catch up on what was happening. but you do wonder what'll happen -- historians, i think, are maybe a little worried about what'll happen in this era when so little gets put done on
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paper. save your e-mails. can you imagine saving all your e-mails? yeah. >> two questions. one is whether the letters were censored, which is -- >> uh-huh. >> and the other is i take it from what you're saying that they didn't say much about, um, how they dealt with the prospect of being under fire successive days. >> well, i'll take 'em one at a time. yes, all the mail was censored. in fact, it was -- one of their jobs as officers was to censor the letters of the enlisted men in their companies. and they got so they wrote -- they knew it, and they wrote around it. my uncle dreamed up this sort of code that he shared with his mother that would mean -- to let her know when he went to the front. he was going to tell her he was going to see the wizard of oz, so when she got the note i'm off to see the wizard, she knew --
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she probably got kind of nervous. that's where he was headed. or they'd have, like when they landed in manchester, he said to his mother i arrived in the city where charles mclean lived, he lived in manchester new hampshire. they found ways to get around that. and the second was how did they talk about sustained combat, is that what your -- >> if they were trying to make things look nice -- >> yeah. >> -- to their family, did they talk at all about emotionally how they dealt with being under fire and knowing they'd be under fire the next day and doing it the next day and the day after that and the day after that? >> well, i can tell you that the letters became sparser when they were in combat. i mean, they'd spend a lot of time waiting around for combat. during the battle of alamain, what i know about that i learned from the letters they wrote
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earlier when the four of the five of them were in the hospital, so they had a lot of time to write letters. they didn't talk too much about how they dealt with fear. more they talked about the, how hard it was to start losing men. that seemed to be the thing that really impressed them and was difficult. and that was something, i think, they could share. um, my uncle talked once about looking forward to going, i mean, another moment where he knew that they were going to be encountering the enemy and how he thought about it. he used this really mundane sort of metaphor, he said it sort of like he referred to a swimming hole in the vermont where he liked to swim in the summers. he said it's like being at, i think it was 20 foot, it's like being at 20 foot and wanting to jump and also not wanting to jump. that's about as close as -- now, i have jack brister's journal that he kept all the way through his time in north africa, but it became very telegraphic when he actually got into combat.
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it was sort of slept the night in a cave, you know? nothing but a restful shiver. just little hinges like that. things like that. you know, fierce fire. it's very -- not a lot of introspection then, i don't think. is that helpful? >> yeah. >> good. oh, i'm sorry, go ahead. >> yes, a quick question. i mean, clearly, he was driven by -- or the group was driven by faith, as you suggested and patriotism as we would call it, also by sort of the bravado of being a young man, that's another piece of it. >> yeah. >> i wonder if you came across anything about class issues, because they all belonged to a social strata. that's a little bit trite, i actually thought of that, but it isn't quite what i was reflecting on.
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the imperative that might come from being part of a group, a social group in the country, particularly the interventionists who were part of a certain sort of class structure. did you come across any of that kind of -- >> well, i don't think they would have, they didn't, wouldn't have articulated it quite like that, but i think they were consciousover being leaders. i mean, they were leaders in their schools, and i think they were conscious of coming from sort of families that had contributed to the country and taken the lead -- >> certain kinds of expectations. >> so there were -- exactly. they felt it was their duty to take the lead if there was a cause they felt they needed to -- yes, i think they felt they needed to do something. i think it played out in two ways. i think my uncle felt he wanted to do something extraordinary. i mean, he couldn't imagine himself not doing something that was important. i'm not exactly sure why that was. but i think, also, there was a sense that they were privileged in many ways. they'd have these wonderful
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educations, and they'd always have enough to eat and that with privilege came an obligation as a citizen to do what you believed was right not just for yourself, but for the country as a whole. i think is that what you're getting at? >> that's exactly right. that was my assumption. >> yeah. >> and that certainly, a big change in that in a certain kind of way, you know, over 75 years as a cultural shift in that regard. >> i would agree with that, yeah. >> i mean, obviously, the social structures are all different than they used to be. >> or people who are in privileged positions don't like to think that they are, which makes it hard to think of yourself as being obligated or being a leader or owing anything, i think. >> certainly that was part of the culture of places like st. paul's and exeter, andover which had deep roots in colonial history, and families who sent children there had huge expectations much as today families have expectations of sending their kids --
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>> well, i do talk in the author's note in the beginning about how we grew up with all these stories about the ancestors who had done remarkable things like roger sherman who signed the constitution, the fella who enlisted in the union, captain cox in the civil war and the man who defended andrew johnson when he was impeached. i guess this is as close as i've ever gotten to doing something special. [laughter] but that is part of it. yeah, i mean, the downside of it is sort of sense of superiority which is not something, i don't think, to be proud of. but -- >> well, it could be. could be. may i ask an aside, and i don't mean to deflect you, but your family's response to your uncle's notoriety and status in the country? >> >> oh, you mean after watergate? >> yeah, after watergate. >> oh.
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>> do they just wish it would all go away? >> oh, no. i think they were really proud of him. it just fulfilled everybody's expectations about richard nixon, and finally it had come to that, you know? and my grandmother did, um, she used to say -- she was worried, you know, she felt like a great wrong had been done to her son, but what she was most vehement about was she would say, well, at least i'm not that richard nixon's mother. [laughter] >> rachel, the combat scenes are are rivetting, but were you knowledgeable about the tack call way all of -- tactical way all of these battles in africa played out? were you familiar with world war ii overview history?
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because how did you educate -- how do you educate yourself in. >> a lot of reading -- that's a good question. >> did you have help, did you read? >> a lot of reading and rereading and rereading again just to become familiar with it. and, um, i also had a wonderful adviser in a man named christopher wallace, general sir christopher wallace who's the chairman of the board at the royal, king's royal rifle corps museum in england who was unbelievably generous in sort of talking me through some of these account of the battles. the british, of course -- not to make any generalizations -- are great about recording everything in their history. so the details of the battles were there, but they were as seen by the company commander, the colonel, who'd been on the ground who liked to tell a good story and sort of wanted to make it seem like they were all a bunch of heal hale and hearty
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guys who had a good day of fun in the battlefield which is clearly not what it was like. so i had to sort of put that through the filters of other histories and bring them all, try to bring them all together. and i did also find several excellent memoirs that describe, i mean, there was one man in the same, um, whose company was right next to my uncle's at the battle who described exactly what he saw and felt and heard, and i made the assumption that that was pretty much what my, what my uncle saw and felt and heard. so i was able to kind of get a first-person account which helped a lot. but it did take a little time to get, get the gist. anyone else? >> what was it like for you emotionally to meet this uncle that you never met? >> um, wait, you mean the
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uncle -- uncle robbie? >> yeah. >> well, i didn't meet him. >> that's what i mean. >> oh, okay. sorry. >> never having met him. >> yeah, get to know him. well, it was moving. it was wonderful to feel that this, the family circle feels sort of complete to me now. i mean, not literally as i took your question, i'm sorry. laugh -- [laughter] you were listening. so that was very satisfying. i felt like i learned a lot about my grandmother who i was very close to. my father a bit. and then when i was in tunisia, i finally went and visited his grave which no one in my family had ever done which before whica really pretty amazing experience. it just filled in this missing place, and i felt good that he'd had a visitor from the family. it sounds kind of crazy. and in the british war
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cemeteries, i guess they invited family members to choose something to be written on the gravestones, and, i mean, you can hardly bear to walk around these cemeteries because some of them are so heart felt. but what my grandmother chose was a passage from st. john in the new testament; for my brothers' and companions' sakes, i will strive to do the good. so i also cried a lot. but it crystallized really the mystery of kind of how he was, number one, how he was able to do this thing and also how my grandmother was able to handle it. i mean, terrible to think about and she kind of saw it as something that was part of his character, that he needed to do and that he did for the greater good, and i guess that's how she managed to live with it for -- yeah.
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>> what was your pace like when you were writing the book? like, were there places that, you know, you were really galloping and rushing along, and were there other places where, you know, it might have been a slower pace or where, you know, you sensed it might have been a bit uphill? >> well, there was more or less procrastination, is that what you're saying? [laughter] no, no, with writing, of course, you start -- in my experience you start slow, and you find the place. you have to kind of cast around and experiment, and then you finally, it's like you find the track that's going to take you where you want to go, and then you move faster and faster. that part of it is the thrilling part, of course. although sometimes you get to the end, and then you go back, and you discover you have to do it all over again. that happened many times, and i threw away a lot i'd written. and it also picks up a lot once
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you have a book contract, i discovered. when there's actually somebody, when there's somebody waiting for what you've written. you have to pick up the pace. and you have to kind of force -- which is good. you get better at sitting in the chair, and you get better at not calling your friends because you can't think of the word. and that kind of thing. so does that answer your question? >> yes, thank you. >> okay. >> were any of the soldiers still alive when you ro the book? -- when you wrote the book? >> well, this is the saddest part about writing this book for me. hayward cutting was still alive, and i actually one of the ways i got started was he was a friend of one of my aunts and told me how to get in touch with him, and i e-mailed him, and he mailed me back as politely as he possibly could, and that was how it went for the next two years. i guess i started out with an actual letter, here's who i am, i'd like to talk to you. or he would e-mail me back and
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say i'm not well, please, let's just leave everything as it is. and then a little later i'd think, well, what kind of journalist am i? i've got to talk to this guy. and i'd write him again, and i just, you know, he made it very clear he didn't want to talk, and i made the decision i wasn't going to force myself on him. i did find his sister, however, who was happy to talk about him and told me how difficult he'd always been. [laughter] that made me feel better. and she gave me quite a bit of information. you know, it's one of the other interest thing is people forget, of course, we all know as we get older we forget what really happened, and, um, whenever i feel really discouraged that i never got to -- of course, i would have liked to have met hayward cutting just to tell him how much i admired him and respected him and what i knew about him, but, um, i've lost my train of thought. when i get really discouraged about the fact i never did actually get to talk to him, i remind myself that i would never
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know if what he told me was really accurate or not, and i got a lot of information through shall we say accounts that were written at the time, and i depended on them. and so as far as getting the true story, i'm not sure i lost out that much, although it does really make me sad that i could never shake his hand. but he died in march, so no more chances. of in this year, yeah. he lived to be 90 years old, i think. he was younger than the others, he was 19 when he went overseas. he had just finished his sophomore year in college. he was -- but he had been raised in england. he went to eaton. he was american by birth but english by training, you might say, so he was really eager to get back there while london was being pommed and in danger of -- bombed and in danger of, i guess they had just escaped the danger of invasion, but he surely wanted to get over there and with his friends back home. ..
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>> having been a teacher and taught talk from your book would be a real important book for children and for being there and the journaling and keeping track of experiences and seeing it through the eyes, instead of through experts or historians and whatever so that history becomes more integrated into the experience as opposed to the times and places. i would think that would be a very interesting book to have. >> i would love it if the book came out like that. i wanted to not just of the day, find out what it felt like.
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i did have the interesting experience at of talking about the book at the community college. and it is extraordinary how much people do not know. you know, just by virtue of being young. how do they know? they did not go with parents who fought in world war ii. at one point i was thinking about when my uncle was going to be drafted. and i thought, they don't know what i'm talking about. draft doesn't mean much of anything anymore either. it is an interesting thought. it really is. >> also, we think in terms of what is war? no one is really participating except for a certain percentage. it is out there. >> it has changed, yes, it has. it is not an obligation of citizenship anymore decipher --
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to fight for your country. that is a profound change that has taken place. my generation wanted to put an end to the draft. it's interesting to think about. >> thank you. >> well, thank you. thank you so much. [applause] >> for more information, visit rachelscox.com. booktv is on facebook. like us come up watch videos and get up-to-date information on events. facebook.com/booktv. welcome to 48 hours of nonfiction authors and books here on c-span booktv. for a complete schedule of this weekend's program, visit
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booktv.org. here are a few programs to keep an eye out for. gene robinson, the bishop of the episcopalian diocese presents his argument for gay marriage. and then how green jobs policies are damaging america's economy. then tomorrow marks the 200 twenty-third book awards. booktv will be live next weekend for more of the festival. those are just a few of the programs we will bring you this weekend. visit booktv.org for a complete schedule. >> i would like to talk to you
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about my book toy. i want to begin by telling you my strong story. when you do research in south carolina and you are asked what you're interested in writing about, then you tell them strom thurmond, you can't mention it without somebody who has a story about him, the time he did something crazy or whatever. my story about strom thurmond is in late july 1992. i am on a flight from washington dc to charlotte, north carolina. and i have been an intern that summer on capitol hill. one of my regrets of the summer was that i had never seen strom thurmond. all my intern said, you have to
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see strom thurmond. he is such an unusual character and has such an unusual appearance about him. i didn't know what they meant, but i have my suspicions. so i look ahead in front of me and i see a man who has these orange colored hairstyles. and i think to myself, that must be what strom thurmond's head looks like. of course, it wasn't strom thurmond. i knew that with people reaching over and trying to shake my hand and that kind of thing. i wanted to shake his hand, too, because i had been in washington dc for the first time and met all of these politicians that i saw on tv and there had been a great thrill. i got to go home and speak to my dads rotary club and i wanted to tell them about all of the famous people that i met in washington dc. so when i got off the plane, there were people already lined
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up. already lined up to shake his hand. i didn't get in line. and you know, i don't have anything to really say to him and it was a busy airport, there were a lot of different kinds of people in there, and i am self-conscious about standing in line a man that is best known for his segregation of touring. i thought it was good enough to say that i have seen him and keep on walking. but i am conflicted. and i walked down to the concourse about 100 yards and i look back. and here, everyone is shaking his hand come in here is this 89-year-old man at the time. he has a suitcase and a briefcase in one hand and a travel bag in the other. in the package under one arm. and he is just shoveling down as busy and crowded airport. without thinking, i go back and i introduced introduce myself and as a senator, my name, i
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introduce myself. i said i don't want to delay your travels and he said no, have plenty of time to it. and i was just trying to make conversation with strom thurmond. so i told him about all the people i had met at summer. and he talked about the various colleagues and i told him i was on my way and i had a girlfriend from florence, south carolina. and i said a comment about south carolina girls. i shook his hand again, and that was it. but i thought about that story alive as i wrote this book. because it was really a metaphor of the difficulty i had been writing about and the challenges i faced in writing about this very controversial figure.
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there is no easy or straightforward way to write about a figure as controversial as strom thurmond. sometimes i've i have been reading this book and i have wondered if some of this stuff is not another effort on my part kind of carry the baggage. goodness knows that he has baggage that needs caring. with the other challenge, the real challenge that i had was to kind of fight the urge to not simply walk away and not meet demand face-to-face. so that is the challenge that i face. what i wanted to do was write a book, a history of "strom thurmond's america." in a way that would be in a critical but dispassionate way that would shed light on some of the issues that shape our america today.
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i did it so we could have a measure of reason in this passion to this issue that embroil our policies today and divide us today. so that was the goal. but what are the big issues? what are the issues that strom thurmond's america speak to? >> a lot of us, it was the 1948 dixiecrat presidential candidate. he was one of the lead officers of the 1956 southern manifesto. which is the protest of the supreme court decision in the ground versus the board of education system. he is the recordholder to this day of the longest one-man filibuster. twenty-four hours and 18 minutes he spoke against 1957 the larrey
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kissell. we remember him today is one of the last of the jim crow demagogues. and he was that. he was one of the last. so really, forget about strom thurmond know what'll i mean by he was the last of the sun belt conservatives? well, it's one of the big stories, the major stories in the history of 20 century american politics. and that is the flow of jobs and industries and resources and populations from the states of the northeast and the midwest to the south and the southwest in the post-world war ii period. they were receiving a lot of funding to the military and
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government. states like georgia and texas and florida and southern california and north carolina, i mean, just think about it. this. from 1964 to 2008, it is a period -- a president elected from those years from 1964 to 2008, they were from the sun belt states. jimmy carter from georgia. ronald reagan from california. it ends this forty-year period.
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there were issues that were critical in the politics that developed. it tended to be oriented around issues of strong national defense and in opposition to unions and the defense of free enterprise policy. also it is in the sun belt, the south and southwest of the see the sunrise of the 1970s to talk about the religious right. the rise of evangelical and fundamentalist voters. national defense, he was a staunch economist who played an important role in populist politics in the late 50s and early 1960s. one of the things that led this to switch parties in 1964. he was opposing labor unions.